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POSTED: Thursday, January 26, 2012, 7:03 PM

I apologize for the typos in the previous post. I'm on double deadline with a story and a column and was a little hasty with the last post. Apparently some haters were just waiting for this moment:  

Flim Flam,
Hey genius, in your haste to post yet another anti-Christian rant about Indiana you misspelled "pseudoscience" and used incorrect grammar in "A number of scientists and religions figures testified...". You meant religious, perhaps? I think you need to "dress up" your English writing skills before "foisting" your opinions on others.  In the least you would look more intelligent while trying to mock the intelligence of others.  But that's the Inquirer today where ideology trumps journalistic talent and skill.

Brian

Faye Flam @ 7:03 PM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Thursday, January 26, 2012, 5:04 PM

The struggle to keep creationism out of American public schools continues. The National Center for Science Education reports that the latest skirmish is taking place in Indiana:

“Indiana's Senate Bill 89, which if enacted would allow local school districts to "require the teaching of various theories concerning the origin of life, including creation science," was passed by the Senate Committee on Education and Career Development on January 25, 2012. The vote was 8-2.”

The votes for the bill came primarily from Republicans and those against, from Democrats.  "Creation science" could refer to one of several branches of pseudoscience that attempt to dress up religion in scientific terminology. A number of scientists and religious authorities testified against the bill, according to NCSE:

Faye Flam @ 5:04 PM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Wednesday, January 25, 2012, 2:15 PM

A reader posed an interesting question about the last column through Facebook.  

Why is it a "fatal flaw" if "the only way to make a theory work is to invoke the supernatural"? It seems to me that that statement indicates you are taking naturalism as a given.

There follows a back and forth with another reader about why gods aren’t part of science. Both invoked philosopher Karl Popper who is famous for the idea that to qualify as scientific, a theory has to be falsifiable.  One reader says magical things are not falsifiable and the other says they are. The reader who is more favorable to magic offers the following comments:

Faye Flam @ 2:15 PM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Tuesday, January 24, 2012, 4:26 PM
(Scott Youtsey/Miracle Studios)

Some parasites seem to cast a spell on their hosts. Even a seemlingly lowly protozoan can  do all sorts of mischief including making rats fall in love with their worst enemy - cats. Such adaptations are great for the parasites, but the story usually doesn't end well for the host. 

This story in The Scientist takes off on a topic I covered in a column last fall called Evolutionary Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

The Scientist story goes into gory details on the mind-controlling effect of toxoplasma, an infection carried by mice, cats and their human companions.

Faye Flam @ 4:26 PM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Monday, January 23, 2012, 5:10 PM

Two readers sent quick responses to the column today examining whether there's anything in cosmology to suggest design in the universe. One suggested I read Bertrand Russell, the other, the Holy Bible.

When I started reading your article in the Philadelphia Inquirer I realized where you were going with it by reading the first few paragraphs.  Words, like "gleeful, gloating, and chest-thumping" were not really necessary to describe the other point of view.  In my opinion, who cares what people say about God, especially in this day and age.  I do not need anyone to confirm my beliefs because these can be confirmed by the Bible, where in many instances were confirmed by more learned scholars.  If you were to read it, you would find that "in the last days scoffers will come" (2 Peter 3:3). 

I would like to believe that you would spend some time reading the Bible from Genesis to Revelation.

Faye Flam @ 5:10 PM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Monday, January 23, 2012, 3:00 AM

Last week some creationists celebrated an apparent triumph: Legendary physicist Stephen Hawking used the word God, possibly not in vain.

The utterance allegedly occurred at an international "state of the universe" conference, to celebrate the 70th birthday of the world's most famous living scientist.

Creationists saw Hawking's comments as an admission that God was needed to create the universe. And they were particularly gleeful about a subsequent story in New Scientist Magazine, headlined "Why Scientists Can't Avoid a Creation Event." That piece called the substance of the conference "the worst presents ever," referring to the failure of several theories attempting to explain the origin of the cosmos.

Faye Flam @ 3:00 AM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Saturday, January 21, 2012, 3:53 PM

There was some confusion over the Guardian commentary piece “Nine Ways Scientists Demonstrate they Don’t Understand Journalism”, which I blogged about yesterday. The story listed nine complaints the author has heard from scientists, and then offers and explanation for why journalists do things in certain ways.

In the heated discussion that followed on blogs and comment threads, about half of readers thought scientists were complaining that the journalist didn’t gather information from multiple sources. Others took it as a complaint that journalist did quote other sources. So really, one can’t win in this game. On re-reading the piece, it was clear to me the complaint was actually that science writers quote hostile sources.   

"How could you quote that person who disagrees with me? He's wrong!

I hate the straw-manning engendered by the "he says, she says" mode of journalism. But the findings of science are often hotly contested and often wrong. In many cases, journalists uncover flaws in the research while calling independent sources to pull their story together. At Nature, a significant number of news stories are dropped after enquiries because they turn out to be weaker than the abstract or the press release suggested. For the stories that get through, the journalistic process may expose more problems or disagreements that were not caught when the paper was peer-reviewed. If the criticisms seem valid and are not easily rebutted, then journalists have a duty to represent them."

Faye Flam @ 3:53 PM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Saturday, January 21, 2012, 3:08 PM

Stories about public acceptance of evolution are in abundance this week. First, an NPR blogger pondered America’s trouble with evolution, and now this story from Livescience says it’s more about intuition than knowledge.   

Gut feelings may trump good old-fashioned facts, and even religious beliefs, when it comes to accepting the theory of evolution, new research suggests.

"The whole idea behind acceptance of evolution has been the assumption that if people understood it, if they really knew it, they would see the logic and accept it," study co-author David Haury, an associate professor of education at Ohio State University, said in a statement.

Faye Flam @ 3:08 PM  Permalink | 0 comments
About this blog
Faye Flam - writer
In pursuit of her stories, writer Faye Flam has weathered storms in Greenland, gotten frost nip at the South Pole, and floated weightless aboard NASA’s zero-g plane. She has a degree in geophysics from the California Institute of Technology and started her writing career with the Economist. She later took on the particle physics and cosmology beat at Science Magazine before coming to the Inquirer in 1995. Her previous science column, “Carnal Knowledge,” ran from 2005 to 2008. Her new column and blog, Planet of the Apes, explores the topic of evolution and runs here and in the Inquirer’s health section each Monday. Email Faye at fflam@phillynews.com. Reach Planet of the at fflam@phillynews.com.

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